They Took Our Child: We Got Her Back

In January 2015, I began informally consulting on a projected “True Crime” television series called They Took Our Child: We Got Her Back. It premieres this Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 10:00 PM on the Lifetime Movie Network.


The one element that totally differentiates this program from all other True Crime television is that it is guaranteed to have a happy ending. Watch as victim after victim recounts their ordeal and the circumstances that enable them to escape almost certain death.


They Took Our Child: We Got Her Back tells the stories of abducted children who escaped from the hands of their kidnappers; and the families who never gave up hope on getting them home safely. Each episode features a single story, told by the formerly kidnapped child and the family members and investigators who tirelessly searched for them, according to the network. Viewers will hear about the parents’ frantic and relentless search for their child, and how they worked with law enforcement to bring them home.


The premiere episode of They Took Our Child: We Got Her Back recounts the story of kidnap survivor and KlaasKids volunteer Midsi Sanchez. Please check back to read my blog on Midsi, where we discuss the crime, life after victimization, and her experinece on this very cool new television series.

The Shadow Nanny and Shaken Baby Syndrome


Accused Nanny Aisling McCarthy Brady

Accused Nanny Aisling McCarthy Brady

Aisling McCarthy Brady arrived in Massachusetts from her native Ireland as a tourist for 90-days under the Visa Waive Program in 2002. She has been in the United States illegally ever since. On Jan.22, 2013 Brady was arraigned on a charge of assault and battery on one-year old Rehma Sabir, causing substantial bodily injury. The little girl has subsequently died. Prosecutors expect to charge the thirty-four year old professional nanny with murder once the autopsy is completed.


Currently, Brady, who has pled not guilty, is being held on a $500,000 bail in the MCI-Framingham correctional institution. If she posts bail she can have no contact with the family of the child, and no contact with kids under the age of 10. She cannot engage in employment or volunteer work with kids or engage in child care services. She must surrender her passport, and check in with probation, and she is ordered to remain under house arrest with GPS monitoring. Her next court date is a pretrial hearing that is scheduled for February 22.


On January 14, Cambridge Police responded to Ash Street regarding an unresponsive infant. The child was found to be breathing but unconscious.  The child was transported to Children’s Hospital in Boston where she was found to be suffering from subdural and retinal hemorrhaging, and cerebral swelling.  She was also observed to have multiple healing bone fractures.  On January 16, the child was pronounced brain dead and subsequently died.


It has been determined that Brady had sole custody of and contact with the child during the time that she sustained injuries consistent with abusive head trauma. An evidence search of the child’s bedroom revealed blood stained baby wipes discarded in a ‘Diaper Genie’. The baby’s blanket and pillow in the crib also had telltale blood stains. The wall next to her changing table had a piece of drywall missing, with remnants scattered on the floor that was consistent with it being damaged by forceful contact with the corner of the changing table.


In documents released yesterday it was disclosed that, based on radiologic images from Children’s Hospital, Rehma had numerous healing fractures, between 2 weeks and two months old, including several compression fractures in her spinal area, as well as what are called long bone fractures to one of her left forearm bones and the two bones in her left leg. Clearly, the toddler had been subjected to severe abuse over the long term.


Brady has no criminal convictions, but she does have a well-documented history of erratic behavior and anger management issues. In 2005, a former boyfriend got a restraining order against Brady because she attacked him in a bar for talking to another woman. This incident was followed by years of stalking and harassment. In 2007, in an unrelated incident, Brady was arrested and charged with assault after yet another incident at a bar. As recently as 2011, a restraining order was filed against Brady after she accused a woman of “abusing the kids in the playground”.


Convicted Nanny Louise Woodward

Convicted Baby Killer Louise Woodward

This case is reminiscent of the Louise Woodward manslaughter incident and trial in 1997. In both cases the nanny was a foreign national. Like baby Rehma, little Matthew had old injuries that indicated previous violent abuse. Louise, a nineteen-year old English au pair was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen while he was in her care. In November, 1997, Louise Woodward was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence for the second-degree murder of baby Matthew Eappen. Inexplicably, Judge Hiller Zobel reduced the jury’s verdict to involuntary manslaughter and said that the 279 days in prison the British au pair had already served would suffice as the entirety of her sentence. Woodward has since returned to Great Britain.


According to USA Today there are hundreds of thousands of foreign born women working in these jobs. They belong to a job sector that exists in the shadows, foreign born, oftentimes illegal immigrants, with few mainstream job skills and a willingness to work under the table for sub-par wages.


Families that employ shadow nannies range from the middle class to the rich and powerful. Markel Foundation President Zoë Baird and Federal Judge Kimba Wood were both forced to remove their names from consideration as United States Attorney General in the Clinton Administration when it was revealed that they had both employed undocumented nanny’s during the infamous Nannygate scandal of 1993.


My question is simple: why do very smart people make such stupid decisions when it comes to the safety and welfare of their children? I have no doubt that the majority of America’s undocumented nannies are loving, competent and responsible, but what compels parents to entrust their children to the lowest bidder? Hopefully, this case of a sadistic shadow nanny that violently shortened the life of a sweet little girl will prompt requisite soul searching to get to the heart of that question.

To Protect and Serve: A Tale of Two Dads

As long as law enforcement serves and protects the innocent against criminal activity, personal retribution is not an option. However, when public safety institutions fail to take action against known criminals and do not intervene to assist victims whose safety is at risk, then they seem to be serving and protecting criminal activity. When criminal justice is perceived as justice for criminals, and victims are ignored, desperate people will seek desperate solutions. I do not condone vigilante justice, but justice must be served, and in the case of the death of Calvin Sneed, a known pimp, the burden of justice was placed squarely on the shoulders of Barry Gilton and Lupe Mercado.


On Saturday, June 9 a party in Shiner, TX turned deadly when a 23-year-old father caught a 47-year-old acquaintance sexually molesting his 4-year-old daughter. The young dad beat the man to death on the spot. Thus far, no charges have been filed as Nancy Grace and a slew of experts and pundits, including me, have lauded the young man as a “father of the year,” for his impulsive, deadly action. The District Attorney has sent the case to the Grand Jury. If the Grand Jury does file charges it will probably be impossible to find a Texas jury that would convict this father for protecting his young daughter from a violent sex crime.


Calvin Sneed

At 2:00 a.m., on Monday June 4, 22-year-old pimp Calvin Sneed was gunned down near San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. On June 9, Barry Gilton and Lupe Mercado were charged with murdering Sneed, conspiracy to commit murder and one count of discharging a firearm at an occupied vehicle. They are both being held in lieu of $2-million bail.


About a year ago Barry Gilton and Lupe Mercado’s 17-year-old daughter was lured away from her San Francisco home by 22-year-old Calvin Sneed. Soon, Snead was forcing their daughter to have sex with strangers throughout California. Upon learning that their daughter was appearing in on-line escort ads, Gilton and Mercado entered her in several missing and exploited children registries and sought help from several law enforcement agencies. The authorities were either unable or unwilling to assist. San Francisco Attorney General George Gascon said that as a father, he understood “the frustration that the parents must have felt…. But taking the law into your own hands is not an acceptable solution.”


According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), signed into law by President Bush in 2000, sex trafficking occurs when a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age. In California the age of consent is 18, so clearly laws were being violated. Yet the authorities refused to help when desperate parents asked them to intervene when a pimp forced their underage daughter to have sex with strangers over the long term.


Pimping involves a complex relationship between a male pimp and one or more women and/or girls. The pimp wields complete control and induces commercial sex acts in order to make money. The pimp attains authoritative levels of control and obedience through intense manipulation that begins during the grooming process. Manipulations include feigned affection, brutal violence, and verbal, psychological, and/or emotional abuse. This breaking-down phase takes a girl from healthy adolescent sexual boundaries to commercial sex with strangers.  This process has been widely-documented and replicated by pimps nationwide. In the trafficking paradigm, this process involves force, fraud, and coercion.


Seasoning often involves beating the girls with hands, fists, and kicking, as well as with objects such as bats, tools, chains, and cords. Burning of personal items to foster hopelessness and demoralization or directly burning women and girls using cigarette/cigar butts is another common tactic. Underage prostitutes also fear rape or gang rape, being locked in closets, the trunks of cars or rooms for indeterminate amounts of time. They also face other torture techniques such as food or water deprivation, or various forms of bondage such as chaining individuals to items or tying them up; direct verbal insults, name-calling, threats, mind control, brainwashing, cognitive re-programming, and other mind boggling forms of violence.


It is well-documented that pimps establish mandatory monetary quotas that typically range from $500 – $1,000. The women and girls under their control must fulfill their quota in order to end each night of commercial sex. Quotas are strictly enforced, and the punishment for failing to meet a quota is severe physical retaliation from the pimp. In pimp-controlled situations, the women and girls keep zero of this money and turn over 100-percent of the profits to the pimp.

Why don’t underage prostitutes leave, given that it is a difficult life and the pimp has all the advantages? For a wide variety of reasons, girls under a pimp’s control will often not self-identify as victims of human trafficking or seek help on their own for a variety of reasons. They may be locked indoors. They face or fear severe physical retaliation, including beatings and rape, if they are caught trying to escape. The pimp threatens reprisals against family members. The girls feel shame about the activities they have been forced to perform. They may have a debt to the pimp that they believe they need to pay off or feel loyalty, similar to Stockholm syndrome, to the pimp. They may be resigned to their fate, or may have no personal resources to assist them. Finally, the girls may distrust law enforcement, and given the current scenario, that is perfectly understandable.


San Francisco’s District Attorney says that, “Deadly force is only justified when you’re defending someone from an immediate threat of deadly force or great bodily injury”. Calvin Sneed was a monster who forced Gilton and Mercado’s underage daughter onto the street at all hours, demanded that she have sex with any stranger willing to pay the price, and advertised her in online sex ads. She was a defenseless girl, subject to AIDS and numerous other STD’s, oftentimes alone with anonymous strangers who lurk in the night. What part of that scenario does not constitute a, “threat of deadly force or great bodily injury”? The District Attorney says that they are looking into whether or not, “She was there willingly or forced to be there,” however according to the law that is not a consideration. She is an underage serial crime victim that the authorities were unwilling to acknowledge let alone rescue. Her parents attempted numerous avenues of legal recourse and were shut down every time.


Attorneys for Gilton and Mercado say that the couple is innocent. They acknowledge that they had a motive, but point out that there are no eye witnesses and no murder weapon. Gilton’s attorney Eric Safire points out that, “What we do know is that the victim is a known gang member, he was out at 2 a.m. in a high crime area—I can only presume he was engaged in his normal and customary [pimping] activities. He was subject to gang violence.”


What’s wrong with this picture? How can we condemn a parent, no matter what they do, for protecting their child? Whether it’s being caught in the immediacy of the victimization or watching from home as their child is being serially victimized in the public arena. Parents are fighting for and having to protect their children, who are being sexually victimized, in ways that are illegal, either because law enforcement is not present or refuses to make themselves present. As the parent of a murdered child, I understand. If I were given the chance to protect and save Polly I would have done whatever I needed to do, including shooting her killer, who now sits on California’s death row, to death. We need to protect our children. Whether it is writing new laws or enforcing existing laws. If it means keeping perpetrators behind bars, or forcing law enforcement to handle cases in times of tight budgets, we need to support parents, who are victims themselves, to protect and preserve their children from violent criminal activity.

Penn State’s Shame

Child sexual abuse is all sexual activity between an adult and child. Certain sexual activity between children is also sexual abuse.


In light of recent revelations surrounding the Penn State and now Syracuse University sex scandals, parents are rightly concerned about the safety of their own children. After all, if we cannot trust institutions of higher learning to protect and not exploit our children, then who can we trust? Unfortunately, child sexual abuse has existed in the seamy underbelly of society forever. Usually, we try to ignore it, but sometimes, and this is one of those times, the revelations are so gross and disturbing that we must engage the debate. What is child sexual abuse, what is being done to prevent it, are my kids being abused, and how can I personally engage this issue?


The widespread institutional abuse of children has been common knowledge ever since the Catholic sex abuse scandal started receiving broad public attention in 2001. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that individuals that want to abuse and exploit our children will seek positions that will provide them with unsupervised access to children. We see it in the non-profit world, schools, pre-schools, churches, fraternal organizations and the athletic field. This is why President Clinton signed the Volunteers for Children Act of 1998. Now organizations and businesses dealing with children, elderly, and the disabled may use national fingerprint-based criminal history checks to screen out volunteers and employees with relevant criminal records. The Internet has provided a new virtual playground that needs to be the topic of its own story.


We should be aware of the warning signs in children and adolescents of possible child sexual abuse. If very young children have knowledge about specific sex acts it is not age appropriate sexual behavior and warrants further investigation. The same goes with young children behaving sexually in public places.


Behaviors to watch for when adults are with children include: inappropriate touching, hugging, or kissing, particularly when the child resists. Secret interactions with children also raise a red flag. When the adult seems ‘too good to be true’ and offers to babysit, take your children on unsupervised outings, lavishes gifts or inappropriate praise, you have reason for concern. Signs that an adult may be at-risk to harm a child include spending most of their free time with kids, and having a ‘special’ child friend that may change from year to year.


Signs that a child or teen may be at-risk to harm another child include spending inordinate time with younger children rather than peers, or forced sexual interaction on other children. Also, children may be at-risk of harming other children if they have not received appropriate counseling for their own abuse issues.


Coach Jerry Sandusky

So, how do we as responsible adults combat the insidious onslaught of child sexual abuse in our own communities? Insist that groups and organizations that you interact with to have written and transparent policy guiding adult/child behavior. Support local non-profit organizations that deal with child abuse issues and report instances of suspected abuse.


Society needs to look upon this as a learning opportunity. The Catholic Church has not yet recovered from their ongoing sex scandal because they did not respond appropriately. Instead of facing the situation head on, they tried to cover up, dismiss and deny sexual abuse in their own ranks. To that end, their standing in the world and the faith based community remains tainted. Were it not for their ubiquitous position and unprecedented wealth the Catholic Church would not have survived their shame.


Any individual involved in the cover-up of child sexual abuse at Penn State or any other institution of higher learning needs to be removed from their position of trust and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Society demands that the safety of children is the highest priority and those that abuse that trust must be held accountable. To do less is simply another form of child abuse.


In light of these new charges and allegations every school in America now has the opportunity to evaluate their own internal policies. They can get ahead of the situation by sweeping their own records. How have they handled sex abuse situations in the past? Take a look at current allegations and decide whether they have made the correct choices. If they take that step then the Penn State and Syracuse victims will at least have a legacy.